Chilford Hall: Two men charged over fire which devastated popular wedding venue

TWO men have been charged with starting the fire that ripped through an 18th century wedding venue and devastated a family business.

Mark Hall, 27, and Thomas Richardson, 26, both of Pipers Close, Haverhill, have each been charged with two counts of arson with intent to endanger life following the blaze at Chilford Hall in Linton in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The pair were due to appear at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court today.

Brides-to-be from across Uttlesford are just some of those who face an anxious wait to find out whether the wedding they booked at the one of the region’s most popular venues can still go ahead.

Staff are hard at work contacting everyone who has made reservations and the owners have vowed to “soldier on” in a bid to fulfill bookings made.

Simon Alper, part of the family who moved to the country house in 1965, was hoping marquees could be erected in the house’s grounds to try to cater for some of the reservations.

“We are in the process of getting in touch with everybody and will do our best to help in whatever way we can,” he told the Reporter.

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More than 60 firefighters from Essex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk were called at about 3.15am to tackle flames more than 50ft high after a police patrol raised the alarm.

No one was hurt but Mr Alper’s stepmother Fiona and her son Reuben were in the nearby house at the time.

Mr Alper, who arrived later that morning, described how the two of them had felt the “searing heat” as the inferno threatened to spread.

The 53-year-old, who worked at the venue from 1983 to 2006, said his stepmother had watched helplessly as their livelihood went up in flames.

“There is a lot of my life in there and it’s just gone up in smoke. It is devastating to see so many memories go up in flames and terrible for all of us,” Mr Alper said.

“Many people will be affected by it, not just those who have booked here for weddings and conferences but workers and suppliers, too.

“The business can continue but it will be a while before it is the same as before.

“We have now got to sit down and work out how we replace the irreplaceable.”

The blaze reduced four barns – the 18th-century Linton Hall, the Great Hall and the adjoining Pavilion and Gallery – used for weddings and conferences to ruins.

However, firefighters were praised by both the owners and workers for their swift action in bringing the fire under control and saving the house, wine store and shop from the flames.

• Were you due to have an event at Chilford Hall? Call the Saffron Walden Reporter on 01799 512890 or e-mail